by Stephen Reid Andrews
Veronica Junius was startled from a deep slumber into complete awareness with the crashing of the front door as it was separated from its hinges. With the sound of indiscernible voices and commotion entering the mayoral mansion downstairs, her heart immediately began to pound as if it would burst through her chest.
Boots against hardwood echoed through the home as the men searched the ground floor, overturning tables and chairs as they did so. As those footsteps stopped, the sound of several additional pairs of boots entered the home.
The questions racing through her mind were innumerable. Why were the men here? Was her father, Mayor Johannes Junius, in danger? Were the men here to evacuate them because of a perceived danger? Was Bamberg under attack? Had the war reached this far? Had her father requested that these men come to the home at this late hour? If so, why would they burst into the home with such destructive force?
From downstairs, Veronica heard the voice of a woman protesting. It was Else, the family servant.
“What are you doing?!” Else cried.
Else’s pleading question was followed by a slap and then a painful screech from Else. The sound instantly raised Veronica to a sitting position in her bed.
“Where is the Mayor?!” bellowed a deep, male voice.
Sobbing from Else was the only response and then came another slap. More scuffling of feet followed. Accelerated pounding began to ascend the stairs, alerting Veronica that more than one man was on his way to the upper floor of the home. Veronica braced herself. Her door was the first at the top of the stairs. Gathering the blankets around her, she clasped them to her body as if they would protect her from the evil that was approaching. She looked around her simple room for somewhere to hide, but there was no retreat.
The doorknob turned sharply, and the door swung open, casting bright torchlight into the room. An illuminated face appeared in the doorway as a man towered over her like he was readying himself to pounce on her.
“Where is the Mayor?!” the man growled in a voice that shook the walls.
Veronica didn’t know how to react, and even if she had known how to react, she was so frozen with terror she wouldn’t have had the ability to respond. Even though the man was dressed in the official uniform of soldiers serving Johann Georg Fuchs von Dornheim, the Prince Bishop of Bamberg, Veronica knew without any doubt that these men were not here to help her father.
Angry with her silence, the shadowed soldier took two impatient steps forward and reached out to her, cocking his arms back to accost her. Her heart stopped with the anticipation of the large hands grabbing her.
“He’s in here!” came a call from down the hall.
A loud crash of glass and the snapping of wood resonated from her father’s room. The man in front of Veronica stopped his advance, contemplating whether he should continue to reach out to her or whether he should move in the direction of the call. After his split-second contemplation, his hands closed, his arms fell to his side, and he briskly left to go down the hall.
Veronica breathed a heavy relief, but that relief was short as she realized anew that her father was the target of this attack. In the next instant, she heard her father cry out in agony amidst the sound of clubs beating against his flesh. She sprung from the bed.
She had to do something to help her father, but what could she do? How many men were in the home? Could she possibly do anything?
With her long white-blond hair flowing over her white-laced night gown, Veronica took five hurried steps towards the door to her room, her bare feet hitting the hardwood. When she reached the door, the first of the soldiers returning from her father’s room stomped by the doorway. Veronica poked her head into the hall. Her pale skin became even more ghostly with the sight of two soldiers dragging her father down the hallway. The soldiers had firm grip of her father on either side underneath the armpits.
Her father was only half conscious, and his bare legs were sliding behind him as if they had been broken. Though the only light in the hall was the torchlight from the guard in front of the procession and the torchlight from the guard following behind, the glisten of that light against the fresh blood running from her father’s nose and seeping from his forehead and split lip was obvious.
“No!” Veronica gasped as she took a step into the hallway, motioning as if she was going to reach out to free her father.
Johannes looked up at her. Turning his neck to cast his glance towards her took all his energy.
With a free hand, one of the soldiers who was dragging the Mayor shoved Veronica’s in the chest, just below the neck, pushing her with enough force that she stumbled backward. She fell to the cold, wood-planked floor with a thud, knocking her head against the bedpost.
For a moment she feared she would lose consciousness, but she shook away the painful blackness that wanted to overtake her. Through foggy vision, she could see a torched flame standing over her in the doorway.
“Stay there!” yelled a burly soldier, his free hand grabbing the sword to his side. “Try to save your father and we’ll take you with us as well.” The soldier hastily left the room to support his companions.
The group of men continued down the steps, Johannes Junius’s legs thumping against each step as they descended.
Though she remained dizzy from the hit to the back of her head, Veronica pushed herself to a stand and followed after the soldiers. She proceeded hesitantly at first but picked up speed as she entered the hallway and saw that the last soldier was already almost to the bottom of the stairs.
Bounding down the steps, Veronica arrived on the ground floor in time to see her father’s head rise to assess the officer that stood in front of him. She recognized the coarse officer from her father’s previous governmental dealings but could not remember his name until her father spoke.
“Fredrich,” Johannes groaned as if it hurt him to breathe. “What are you doing?”
Fredrich didn’t flinch with the inquiry. “Mayor Johannes Junius,” he pronounced stiffly like he was issuing the Mayor a formal invitation. “In the name of the Almighty and his servant Prince Bishop Johann Georg Fuchs von Dornheim, you are under arrest.”
“What are…,” Johannes grunted as he winced in pain from his two recently broken ribs. “What are the … charges? I have … done nothing wrong.” Johannes spit blood from his mouth.
“You are hereby under arrest pursuant to the charges of,” Fredrich grimaced “…aiding and abetting witchcraft, engaging in witchcraft, and conspiracy to commit the devil’s sorcery against the Prince Bishop himself.”
“What?” groaned Johannes. “I have done nothing–”
Appearing from the darkness of the shadows, another soldier, a hugely burlesque man, swung his arm back and through to the center of Johannes’s gut, breaking a third rib.
“No!” screamed Veronica from the stairway.
The crowd of men had previously been oblivious to Veronica’s presence, but all eyes now turned to her.
“Hold your tongue witch! Or we will take you to the stake as well!” barked Fredrich.
Veronica wanted to do something, and for a moment, it looked as if she would lash out and attack the men, but before she could make an advance, her father looked up in his agony with pleading eyes. She knew from the look what he was telling her to do and what he needed her to do.
She was to do nothing.
At first, Veronica fought the urge to obey her father. Her father had rehearsed to her before what she should do if this situation arose, but with everything in her, she wanted to disobey him. Veronica and Johannes stared at one another until Johannes gave a slight nod, recognizing that, at least for now, his daughter would follow his wishes.
Johannes gazed at his daughter with a final plea in his eyes. “Remember what I told you to do,” he mouthed silently.
With trembling heart and faltering courage, Veronica took two steps backwards and collapsed on the stairs, grabbing hold of the railing and burying her head in her bare arm.
“That’s what I thought,” said Fredrich pompously. He then signaled curtly with a wave of his hand.
The soldiers moved in exact obedience, dragging Johannes out the open doorway.As the men filed outside, the home was left still. Else was left unconscious on the floor in the foyer and Veronica was left sobbing on the stairs.